The Cheltenham Festival attracts visitors from far and wide to celebrate the best four days in the jump racing calendar but what does it mean to the locals? We sat down with trainer Martin Keighley and his wife Belinda to find out.
The Cheltenham Festival isn’t just huge for the racecourse, the entire local community thrives on the racing from pubs, restaurants and hotels. “There is such a buzz around the locality in the few days leading up to the Festival and during the week too. If we call into Stow on the Wold on the Monday, for example, you will often see plenty of Irish number plates and familiar faces doing their last-minute shopping ahead of the big week.
The Cheltenham Festival is the Olympics of Jump Racing and the week many racing fans plan their year around. The deluge of the Irish adds to the atmosphere and for it to be at our most local track, for us, makes it even more special.”
While it’s the Irish influx that adds so much to the atmosphere, it’s a pair of English winners that stand the test of time in the memory as the Keighley’s favourite races of the Festival.
“Anzum’s win in the Stayers’ Hurdle giving Richard Johnson his first Festival winner was a fantastic race and Viking Flagship’s 1994 Champion Chase win with Travado and Deep Sensation all jumping the last together.”
The latter contest was during a golden age for two-mile chasers but it was at the other end of the spectrum that the Keighley’s had both their best moment at the Festival and subsequently their worst in the aftermath.
“Any Currency was first past the post in the Glenfarclas Cross Country chase in 2016. He was an amazing horse who had already been 2nd in the two years previous to the race and it meant the world to me and my family – as those that saw our post-race celebrations could see!
Sadly they were to lose the race in a subsequent enquiry but the Keighley’s have a strong record at their local course. 35% of their runners at all Cheltenham meetings hit the first four home but what does it mean to them to get a winner at the track that they call home?
“There is no feeling like it. A winner anywhere is the result of hard work from the team and needs celebrating but a winner at Cheltenham, our local track with so many of our supporters there too always means huge celebrations.
Suzanne (in the Winners’ Room) always knows to pour lots of glasses of champagne as it’s always a big party! It leaves you on a high and there is definitely a buzz at the yard for a few weeks following a Cheltenham Winner.”
Is there more of a pressure to have winners at Cheltenham given that it is the track that is so close to the stables?
“I think every trainer feels pressure to have a winner at The Festival, it’s what we all want – you only have to see how mad big trainers who have already had loads of winners there, like Paul Nicholls, go when they have a winner to know how much it means.”
The stable stalwarts of old are gone now but with “Back on the Lash, Solstice Star, Brillare Momento among the possibles” for the 2019 Festival “but we’ll wait and see. We have a younger team of horses coming through at the moment so hopefully, we’ll be double-handed in the next few seasons there.”
We wish the team all the best for future success at the Cheltenham Festival. Many thanks to Martin and Belinda Keighley for their time.